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Ambitious Yet Vital: How Ohio is Preparing the STEM Workforce of Tomorrow

April 30, 2024 3-minute read
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In Ohio, as in many parts of the U.S., entry-level science courses serve as a significant barrier to entry into STEM degree programs. Failing these critical courses not only prevents learners from pursuing and persisting in STEM majors but also hinders their access to high-demand STEM careers. Students who struggle with gateway courses disproportionately come from low-income and first-generation backgrounds. Troublingly, a study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 69% of community college students initially enrolled in STEM programs change their major to a non-STEM program or leave postsecondary education altogether.

To address this ongoing concern, Ascendium recently awarded a grant to the Ohio Department of Higher Education to support the Ohio Strong Start in Science (OhioSSS) initiative. OhioSSS is a groundbreaking partnership between the Ohio Department of Higher Education, the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College, Columbia University, and 13 community colleges and four public universities.

The aim of OhioSSS is ambitious yet vital: to overhaul placement practices, curricula, and instruction in gateway biology and chemistry courses. By doing so, the initiative will improve learner performance in these critical science courses while promoting momentum and degree advancement in STEM fields. Additionally, OhioSSS seeks to address equity gaps experienced by learners underrepresented in STEM, ensuring that all learners have equal opportunities for success in these fields.

One of the key strategies employed by OhioSSS is the adoption of the corequisite support model. In the traditional model, students pursuing academic majors in the sciences must first pass demanding introductory courses. These developmental courses often don't count towards graduation and have high failure, withdrawal, and incomplete rates, especially among first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students, despite their performance in other courses. By contrast, the corequisite model places underprepared students into college-level, credit-bearing courses with additional academic and nonacademic support. This approach has shown particular promise for learners from low-income backgrounds and underrepresented minorities. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that corequisite models can have similar positive impacts in science courses, making them a valuable tool in improving learner outcomes.

Central to the success of OhioSSS is the partnership with CCRC, which will serve as the initiative’s research partner, providing both ongoing assessment and final evaluation research. This collaboration underscores the significance of having a state-level entity coordinate partnerships capable of supporting both programmatic efforts and policy initiatives in advancing STEM education.

The timing of this initiative couldn’t be more opportune. With a surge in jobs requiring STEM skills and the recent announcement of Intel’s $20 billion superconductor complex outside Columbus, Ohio, which is expected to generate an estimated 20,000 jobs, the demand for STEM graduates in Ohio’s workforce is greater than ever before. President Biden has hailed the Intel project as a historic investment that will not only revolutionize the Midwest’s industrial sector but also address supply-chain bottlenecks. This project marks the largest private sector investment in Ohio’s history and underscores the importance of investing in STEM education to meet the demands of the future.

Through initiatives like OhioSSS, Ascendium and its partners are working tirelessly to empower Ohio’s STEM learners, reduce equity gaps, and ensure that all learners have the opportunities they need to succeed in the STEM fields of tomorrow.

Ohio’s Intel project isn’t the only significant investment in science and technology made possible by the CHIPS and Science Act. Signed into law by President Biden in August 2022, this bipartisan legislation authorizes approximately $280 billion in new funding nationwide. Its aims include boosting U.S. semiconductor capacity, promoting research and development, establishing regional high-tech hubs, and fostering a bigger, more inclusive STEM workforce. Learn more.